SETI reloaded: Next generation radio telescopes, transients and cognitive computing

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    The Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) using radio telescopes is an area of research that is now more than 50 years old. Thus far, both targeted and wide-area surveys have yet to detect artificial signals from intelligent civilisations. In this paper, I argue that the incidence of co-existing intelligent and communicating civilisations is probably small in the Milky Way. While this makes successful SETI searches a very difficult pursuit indeed, the huge impact of even a single detection requires us to continue the search. A substantial increase in the overall performance of radio telescopes (and in particular future wide-field instruments such as the Square Kilometre Array-SKA), provide renewed optimism in the field. Evidence for this is already to be seen in the success of SETI researchers in acquiring observations on some of the world's most sensitive radio telescope facilities via open, peer-reviewed processes. The increasing interest in the dynamic radio sky, and our ability to detect new and rapid transient phenomena such as Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) is also greatly encouraging. While the nature of FRBs is not yet fully understood, I argue they are unlikely to be the signature of distant extra-terrestrial civilisations. As astronomers face a data avalanche on all sides, advances made in related areas such as advanced Big Data analytics, and cognitive computing are crucial to enable serendipitous discoveries to be made. In any case, as the era of the SKA fast approaches, the prospects of a SETI detection have never been better.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)8-12
    Number of pages5
    JournalActa Astronautica
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


    • Fast Radio Bursts (FRB)
    • Radio astronomy
    • SETI
    • SKA


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